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Trump Nominates Bill Barr as AG and Heather Nauert as U.N. Ambassador; Mueller to Outline Accusations Against Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen; Mueller to Make Sentencing Recommendation for Michael Cohen. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired December 7, 2018 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:19] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour and it's going to be a busy one. I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. We're so glad you're with us this Friday morning.

He may not get the last word, but President Trump today made sure he got the first word ahead of two major new reveals from Robert Mueller. Any time now, the special counsel will tell a court why he's accusing the president's former campaign chair Paul Manafort of violating his plea deal by lying. Separately today as well, Mueller is due to tell another court how much prison time if any he thinks Michael Cohen deserves for an array of guilty pleas ranging from tax evasion to lying to Congress, Jim.

SCIUTTO: As we speak, as well, former FBI director James Comey, of course, fired by this president, is beginning testimony behind closed doors before two House committees this morning. While back at the White House, the up and down relationship between the president and Chief of Staff John Kelly is said to be down, way down, and that Kelly will soon be out of that job.

CNN's Abby Phillip joins us now.

Abby, before we get to go to who is going, tell us about the two new hires the president just announced.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The president just announced two major positions in his administration. One that have been open for some weeks now. The U.N. ambassador -- the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations will be Heather Nauert who is currently the State Department's spokeswoman.

Now Heather Nauert is a former FOX News journalist who has been at the State Department for over a year now. And she has been rising precipitously and now has been named to that position which is currently a Cabinet-level post.

Also, President Trump announcing on the South Lawn moments ago that William Barr, who was a former attorney general for George H.W. Bush, will be his new attorney general, replacing Jeff Sessions in that post. The president praised Barr as someone who was respected by both Democrats and Republicans. And let me just play you a little bit of what he told reporters on the South Lawn moments ago.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to confirm that Bill Barr, one of the most respected jurists in the country, highly respected lawyer, former attorney general under the Bush administration, he will be nominated for the United States attorney general. I also want to inform you that Heather Nauert is going to work with Nikki Haley to replace Nikki at the United Nations. She'll be ambassador to the United Nations.


PHILLIP: So both of those posts are going to be under intense scrutiny as they are both up for Senate confirmation. Now there are going to a lot of questions about Heather Nauert's qualifications for that position and William Barr's past comments about the Muller investigation, about investigations that are being led by the Justice Department. But what President Trump did not talk about at the South Lawn was whether Chief of Staff John Kelly still has a job. Sources told CNN this morning that he's widely expected to resign in the coming days and that the president is actively preparing to replace him, though no decision has been made about a replacement.

So we are still waiting for that very important decision about the leadership here in the West Wing. But in the meantime, there's going to be different leadership, it appears, at other parts of the administration and President Trump even touted that tomorrow he's going to be making a third announcement about something related to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He left that tease pretty open ended. So we'll see what that is tomorrow when he heads to the Army-Navy game, Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: An important point in the final seconds of what the president did tell us this morning.

Abby Phillip, thank you.

I mean, I would just note, Jim, if people missed last hour, you asked Peter Navarro on the president's team, and he completely dismissed the John Kelly news, saying no, no, no, he's not going anywhere. The only person we've heard from on the record, you know, from the president's inner circle. We'll see.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, as always, it's up to the president. He'll make the final --


SCIUTTO: The final call, maybe by Twitter.

Joining us now is CNN political commentator and former campaign manager for Hillary Clinton, Robby Mook, and CNN political commentator and former special assistant to President George W. Bush, Scott Jennings.

Thanks to both of you as always.

Scott, if I could start with you, just looking at a couple of these new hires. First of all, Bill Barr, President George H.W. Bush alum, but someone who's been very public in his criticism of the special counsel. He has said that the Uranium One case is more substantial than the collusion case. He has argued for a whole -- even argued for the possibility of investigations of Clinton and elsewhere. Obviously, echoing points that the president has made himself.

Is that the right person for the attorney general of the United States at this time?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, the person needs to have the confidence of the president. This is a Cabinet officer that's subservient to the office of the president so he clearly has earned that.

[10:05:03] But the issue here, whoever gets it, it looks like it's going to be Barr, and I think that's great, is that they're going to have go through a confirmation process. And so all the issues you raised, all your public statements, everything in your past it's going to be vetted and gone over in a confirmation process.

I'd be surprised if someone went through a confirmation process without having to answer to some of this and maybe make some promises to the United States Senate about what they will and won't do in this job. So I think the White House needed to get someone into confirmation. I'm glad they did it. I think this person is extremely qualified, and it looks like they've made a really good choice that's going to make a lot of senators maybe put their minds at ease.

HARLOW: Robby, to you, he's also weighed in on Hillary Clinton. And obviously you ran her campaign. So I'd like your take on William Barr. Highly respected. You do have Patrick Leahy, Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who has, you know, praised him before and has said that he would get his vote. And you do have the fact that William Barr has said that the firing of James Comey was totally legitimate because he says Comey overstepped here, which I think you and the Clinton team would agree on that point.

ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I think the problem, though, is that Donald Trump didn't fire James Comey because of how he treated Hillary Clinton because Donald Trump agreed with how James Comey treated Hillary Clinton during the campaign. It was suddenly when James Comey became his problem he was all of a sudden sympathetic to Hillary.

And look, that's my concern about this nomination. This is someone who is citing basically fake news around this Uranium One allegation. It's from a book by a right-wing political activist that was totally debunked. And so I worry this is just another nomination from Donald Trump.

I agree with Scott that it's all about, you know, someone that the president has confidence in, but the problem is to have Donald Trump's confidence, you need to lie and you need to believe fake news. And I think that's who we have in this nominee.

SCIUTTO: Wow. Scott, I'd give you a chance to respond to that.

JENNINGS: Yes, look, I think this guy is going to go answer a bunch of questions from Republicans and from Democrats. So everything Robby just raised I'm sure the Democrats on the committee are going to raise it and he's going to have to answer for it. And the way you perform in these confirmation hearings, as we know, actually matters. So everything that's been brought up, it's going to be publicly aired. That's why the White House needed to get to a confirmation process, to give everybody a peace of mind that this was going to be run by someone who had a chance to have a full public airing and a full public vetting.

So I don't have any concerns about this until I see him perform in the confirmation. Now if he punts, if he botches it in the confirmation, that's a problem, but that hasn't happened yet.


HARLOW: Go ahead, Robby.

MOOK: Well, I was just going to say, Attorney General Jeff Sessions -- former attorney general lied to the committee about his contacts with Russia in his confirmation hearing, so I totally agree with Scott. All this needs to be brought up. There's a process and place to vet these things. My concern is the last time we had an A.G., he lied about his person contact with the Russian ambassador and it didn't matter. He got confirmed.

HARLOW: Yes. He went back and sort of corrected the record, but I take your broader point here.

Scott Jennings, to you on Heather Nauert. The president has always said he picks the best, he surrounds himself with the best. There is no question, Heather Nauert is indeed very intelligent, sharp. She's a journalist for years. Is she the best, most qualified pick to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations right now?

JENNINGS: Well, a number of things, you know, you would count in the sort of bucket of qualifications for this job. And chief among them is do you have the confidence of the president and does the rest of the world believe that you have the president's ear? You're an ambassador-level person, you're talking to other, you know, foreign government officials, foreign heads of state on a big stage. They have to know that you have the full confidence and ear of the president. Clearly she has that. She has earned that. She's done a really good job by all accounts in her current job.

And I like it that the president is continuing on here with promoting and nominating strong women for this administration in this diplomatic arena.

HARLOW: But to that point --

JENNINGS: So I think also -- she's going to also have a confirmation process. She'll be grilled.


JENNINGS: I mean, that's the thing, all these folks are going to get grilled and we're going to how they handle it. And that's going to tell us a lot about their capacity for the job.

HARLOW: Do you think, though, that she will -- just to follow on that -- be someone akin to Nikki Haley who was willing to stand up to the president and say publicly when she disagreed with the president? Because isn't that also important, Scott?

JENNINGS: Well, I think it's important that the president nominates people who are going to tell him the truth as they see it. And so I have no doubt that in her current job, she's had to have a lot of push and pull with her bosses about what can we say publicly about certain issues, but she does have to stand up to her bosses including the secretary of state, including the president, when she's getting information that might be contrary that could change their opinion.

That is a vital thing, not to be surrounded by yes people, but to be surrounded by honest people who will tell you the truth.

SCIUTTO: But, of course, that's desired. There's not a lot of evidence of that in this administration because you often see the folks who do stand up are viewed as disloyal and they don't last long, Robby Mook. I mean --

JENNINGS: But Nikki Haley -- you all just said that Nikki Haley had a reputation for doing --

SCIUTTO: A good example.

JENNINGS: She's exiting this administration on very, very good terms.

[10:10:01] SCIUTTO: That's true, but exiting the administration, and if you look at the broader picture, Robby Mook, would you say there's evidence that if you stand up or disagree with this president, that you're -- you might be a short timer in the administration?

MOOK: Well, absolutely. There's a lot of evidence of that. And you know, I'm not one of these people who says you have to have tons and tons of experience to be appointed to these jobs. I think we live in different times and different perspectives are good. My problem with this nomination is her most prominent bullet on the resume is being on "FOX and Friends" and frankly I don't think our ambassador to the world should be from "FOX and Friends."

I don't think the world is going to find that very appealing. I think most Americans are going to find that unsettling. So, you know, Scott is right, yes, there will be a hearing, but my gosh, is this really the best we can put forward to the entire world, to the United Nations, is a host from "FOX and Friends"?

SCIUTTO: Right, there are going to be, Poppy, certainly interesting hearings for both of them. HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Sorry, didn't mean to clip you.

HARLOW: No, I would just note that she did serve as the number four in the State Department for a short period of time earlier this year under secretary for public diplomacy, but yes, most of her career was spent at FOX News as a journalist.

All right, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Robby Mook, Scott Jennings, thanks very much, as always.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team set to reveal new details on Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen today in the Russia probe. It could be a very crucial day. We may get some very strong signals about where the investigation is going, how far it's going.

HARLOW: And that could happen any minute. Also right now, former FBI director James Comey is on Capitol Hill. He's testifying behind closed doors before two House panels today. We'll give you an update when we have that.

And a Republican leader in Texas says there's a push to oust him. Why? Because he's Muslim. We'll talk to him.


[10:16:09] HARLOW: Ever since Robert Mueller stunned pretty much everyone by revealing that President Trump's former campaign chair had breached his plea agreement, we're talking about Paul Manafort, we have all wondered how. What did he lie about? And how did Mueller know, Jim, that he was lying?

SCIUTTO: Yes. We're going to learn a lot today. CNN's Jessica Schneider, she's at the D.C. federal courthouse where sometime today we will get this report.

You know, Jessica, big question here is how much is allowed to go public. You had those redactions in the Michael Flynn filing earlier this week. With this, do we expect the same, or is this something where we expect all the details to be OK'd for public release?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Jim, some of that is the question, but Mueller's team has recently said that at least some of this filing will be public. We just don't know how much. So of course, it's jet another day of waiting here in Washington for that filing to drop.

The special counsel's office must tell the judge how they believed Paul Manafort lied to them during their plea talks and what exactly he lied about. Because remember, it was at the beginning of last week when the special counsel's team revealed that they had called off all cooperation with Paul Manafort, saying that he had lied on a variety of subjects in several different meetings. So the big question that we have been left wondering the past two

weeks is what exactly did Paul Manafort lie about? The key question that could be answered in this filing today, did Paul Manafort lie at all about the campaign, about then-candidate Donald Trump? Did he lie about any possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia? Or did Paul Manafort simply lie about some of his business interests in Ukraine? Remember, that was the focus of the trial out in Virginia where he was convicted on eight counts.

So the filing here, it could drop at any time. It's expected definitely before midnight. The special counsel has said that they will reveal some of it in public, but again, like we saw earlier this week with the Michael Flynn filing, a lot of it could be redacted.

So, Jim and Poppy, we continue to wait and wonder here in Washington, but that big filing on Paul Manafort expected today.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Any minute now possible.

Jessica Schneider, we know you're going to bring it to us once it happens.

Other big thing we're waiting to drop relates to Michael Cohen. CNN's MJ Lee, she's here now on a pivotal day for the man who once bragged he would, quote, "take a bullet" for President Trump, no longer.

MJ, what do we expect to be revealed today?

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, Jim and Poppy, we know what Michael Cohen wants and what he wants is leniency at his sentencing hearing next week. He wants as little time, jail time, as possible, and in fact, his lawyers argued last week that he should get no jail time. And their rationale, part of their rationale at least, is he has been cooperating extensively with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and today, we're going to hear from the special counsel on what he thinks about all of that.

He is going to probably give us a little more insight into how extensive Michael Cohen's cooperation with the special counsel's office has been, on what topics he potentially has been cooperating on, and of course, the most important question that Michael Cohen wants the answer to is the recommendations from Robert Mueller on how much jail time Michael Cohen should get.

The two things that we're really watching carefully, potentially that we might get some new insight on are the two things that he has pleaded guilty to so far, the first one, of course, are the campaign finance violations that Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to back in August. Remember, he made the bombshell allegation back then that it was at Trump's direction that he coordinated these hush payments to women who alleged to have affairs with Donald Trump. And the second of course is what we learned last week.

Michael Cohen said that he lied to Congress on details about this Moscow deal that the Trump Organization was working on. So a lot of new details that we could learn from Robert Mueller today. And just keep in mind in the big picture, too, that Michael Cohen and his lawyers have made clear the reason they are pushing for a quick sentencing.

[10:20:02] They want the sentencing to go on as originally planned next week, and that is because he says he is very, very eager to move on to the next chapter of his life -- Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: All right, MJ Lee, thank you for the important reporting.

With me now is attorney Robert Wray. He served as former independent counsel investigating former President Bill Clinton during Whitewater. He also served under the president's new pick for attorney general, William Barr. He worked in the AG's office in the early '90s.

Good to have you on all of these fronts this morning.


HARLOW: Pivotal day clearly. Jessica and MJ Lee just outlined why for the Mueller probe on Manafort, on Cohen. If you're the president's attorney this morning, what are you thinking? What concerns you the most?

RAY: There's a lot going on, although I will say that in terms of turning on to sort of the next chapter in one's life and looking at the special counsel's filings when we see them, I expect that none of that is going to include what you'd expect to be the most serious thing that the Trump White House would worry about, which is future testimony in other proceedings about cases brought against, you know, individuals in the future.

It appears to me, at least, that we're seeing some of the winding down. In other words, the sentencings are expected to go forward with regard to both Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen. And those sentencings don't seem to anticipate that there's any further testimony from either of the two of them or from Michael Flynn, for that matter. So you know, what you'd ordinarily be fearful of is that they are continuing to cooperate.

HARLOW: Right.

RAY: And that they would provide testimony in a future proceeding. That doesn't appear to be what's happening.

HARLOW: It's also clear, though, that the president and his team disagree completely with the Mueller report that is not even out there yet, because the president just wrote this morning that Rudy Giuliani has already written, you know, 87 pages of their counter report.

RAY: Right.

HARLOW: I mean, what does that indicate to you, that 87 pages of a counter report to a report that's not even out there yet that the president has discredited, saying it's a witch hunt over and over again is already written? Is the president scared? RAY: Well, I think it's reasonably anticipated based upon

conversations that I'm sure the president's lawyers have said with Bob Mueller's office about what's likely to be included in the report. And so some of that of course is anticipatory, and -- you know, their response obviously won't be finalized until that report is actually issued.

HARLOW: Right.

RAY: But, you know, I do think that what it suggests is that the next shoe that's going to drop is likely to be not another proceeding against another individual or entity but it's like --

HARLOW: But the report.

RAY: But the report itself.

HARLOW: You think -- that's interesting. Rudy Giuliani told "The Atlantic" in an interview he just did about those written answers that the president gave to Mueller's questions, quote, "Answering those questions was a nightmare," Rudy Giuliani says. "It took him," meaning the president, "about three weeks to do what would normally take about two days."

A nightmare, three weeks? If you're telling the truth, why that long? And what do you make of just this comment from Rudy Giuliani?

RAY: Well, look, I -- again, that's a little bit I think overstated. If you're -- I mean, I do this for a living.


RAY: You're representing a client. It doesn't matter whether the client is the president of the United States or anybody else. Believe me, there's a lot of preparation and attention that goes into preparing somebody for what is the equivalent of testimony under oath or a grand jury proceeding. These are answers that are provided under oath, and of course, an enormous amount of time is spent doing that.

I don't think by any stretch of the imagination somewhat it's an exaggeration to say well, it's just a two-day operation.

HARLOW: Right.

RAY: In my experience, it's never a two-day operation.

HARLOW: Yes. Fair enough.

RAY: It's a lot more complicated than that.

HARLOW: Exactly.

RAY: But it is serious. It is provided --

HARLOW: Yes. RAY: You know, under penalty of perjury, and I do think it's likely

to signal the conclusion of that portion of the investigation. And we're likely to see the rest of the story in the report itself.

HARLOW: The president has told us this morning he is tapping the former attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, William Barr, to be the next attorney general to replace Jeff Sessions. You worked under Barr in his office in the early '90s. What's your read on this pick from the prosecutors that Mueller has hired because of some of their Democratic contributions?

RAY: Well, I think he's had the experience, and so that's really the best aspect of the choice, is that he believes strongly in the institution of the Department of Justice. He served in a number of critical capacities in the department.


RAY: Including as head of the Office of Legal Counsel as well as the deputy attorney general and then the attorney general obviously in that position previously. So all of those things, you know, lend an important perspective to something as important as the following, and that is critically everybody should understand that he is likely -- if confirmed, is likely to preside over the end of the Mueller investigation, one way or another.

HARLOW: Do you have any concerns -- if you were on the Senate and if you were questioning him during his confirmation proceedings, do you have any concerns about his willingness to completely let the Mueller probe continue untouched?

RAY: I really don't. I mean, obviously, he may have concerns, as I do, about, you know, the operation of the special counsel's office, but I think that's water under the bridge. Whatever your view is about this, I think, you know, in the best interest of the country, I think that what's going to happen here, and I think it's likely that Bill Barr will agree, the Mueller investigation will come to an appropriate conclusion as Bob Mueller sees fit.

[10:25:13] Now I will say that, you know, it's in everybody's interest, including the country's interest, most importantly, that this investigation come to a conclusion and not drift over for the life of the Trump presidency. I expect that that's likely to happen.

I think where we're headed here in the first quarter of next year and 2019 is that the Mueller investigation will come to a conclusion with the issuance of a report. And then it will be up to the House of Representatives to decide what to do with it.

HARLOW: Yes. All right, thank you for being here. We appreciate it. Nice to have you, Robert.

RAY: Thank you.

HARLOW: Have a good weekend.

RAY: Nice to be with you. You, too.

HARLOW: Jim, some breaking news to you.

SCIUTTO: Yes. We have some news just in to CNN. And that is that George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign who was sentenced to prison for lying to FBI investigators, he is now out of prison. It's a two-week term. This was just moments ago. He served it in Wisconsin. That was him there entering a car.

The 14-day sentence, due to those lies to the FBI. He was the first person charged as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. Of course, since then, a number of others, both U.S. nationals and Russian nationals charged.

George Papadopoulos, his prison sentence now over.

In other news former FBI director James Comey right now on Capitol Hill, testifying behind closed doors. We believe he's going to speak afterwards. We're going to go there next.